Strolling the Balboa Island boardwalk - a world away from L.A. brakelights
  • Strolling the Balboa Island boardwalk - a world away from L.A. brakelights
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For starters, the name is misleading. “Balboa Island” is not an island – well, not a real one, anyway.

Back in the early 1900s its harbor, Newport Harbor, needed channels dredged of sand and silt to allow for more boat access and maneuvering. The result of these sand and silt deposits is the present-day Balboa Island.

But enough history, let’s tackle the other part: Newport Beach. True, the island is located in Newport Beach’s geographical boundaries, but it stops there. For all other purposes, Balboa Island is its own island.

In the early AM hours, saunter around the island’s two-mile-and-some boardwalk to soak in its salty air and its people. Get used to frequently saying hello to fellow strollers passing by – something not common in Newport Beach.

It’s here that you might run into Rusty of Rusty’s Chips, offering you a friendly “good morning.” Cruising farther along the boardwalk, you might say hi to Matt Hurray sitting in his front yard. Growing up here, Matt was a big part of the local (and pivotal) band Just Plain Big. Now he’s making more waves via his solo career.

After the walk, head to the main street, Marine Avenue, and eat at Wilma’s Patio, the island’s iconic breakfast venue. Look out for Justine on the weekends – she’s a nurse and a student, but hasn't let go of serving at her cherished Wilma’s Patio.

It’s here on Balboa Island that you will meet friendly local souls like these, showing an effusive pride for their community and, just as importantly, their roots within it. And it’s this community that engages in activities year-round:

Show up in May for the annual Balboa Island Artwalk, lining the boardwalk for over a mile with artists, booths and live music. Not into art? Come up the same month for the All Island Garage Sale to amiably barter for whatever you seek. Is boating your thing? Check out the Newport Harbor 4th of July Boat Parade.

But none of these events can top the holiday season on the island. From mid-December until Christmas, hit the boardwalk at night to feast upon the sight of houses-turned-Christmas-fairytale-lands.

Even better, make sure to time this visit to see the Holiday Boat Parade with the other million viewers. Adults and kids alike unfailingly marvel at these electrifying presentations every year.

So go up and meet the Balboa Island community. They'll surely welcome you into their close-knit world. Just don’t be surprised when you need to park on the mainland side of the bridge – lack of parking opportunities might be the island's only strike.

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